A woman with a face mask and a woman without one

Should a person with dementia wear a face mask for coronavirus?

Due to coronavirus, many of us now wear face masks or coverings while out. Some people with dementia may not like wearing a face covering, or understand why they should wear one. Read our advice on how to help and who may be exempt from wearing a mask.

This article was first published on 7 July 2020 and most recently updated on 8 December 2021.

Here’s what you need to know about face coverings and how to support a person with dementia who might struggle with them.

Why should I wear a face mask or face covering?

Wearing a face covering helps stop you spreading coronavirus to other people. If you wear a face covering you may also be a bit less likely to catch coronavirus from someone else.

A face covering is particularly important in enclosed spaces, such as while out shopping or on public transport, and if you’re around strangers.

People are often closer together in shops or on public transport. Without fresh air the virus can spread more easily in enclosed spaces. A face covering can help reduce some of this risk.

Some people, including those with dementia choose to wear a face covering even just walking outdoors in the high street – it can make them feel safer.

Where can I get a face mask, or how do I make a face covering?

The government has issued guidance on how to make and wear a cloth face covering

You can use a scarf or bandana, or make your own covering from an old T-shirt or piece of cotton. It should be comfortable and cover your nose and mouth. You may already wear a face covering such as niqab, and don’t need to make or buy one.

You can also buy a basic face mask online or from a pharmacy or supermarket.

Don’t buy special medical-grade face masks. Supply of these is needed for frontline care workers.

What does the UK law say on wearing a face covering?

Guidance on face coverings is subject to change, and is different depending on where you live and what public place you are visiting. See the latest government guidance on face coverings, which includes when to wear one, exemptions, and how to make your own.

When may somebody be exempt from wearing a face mask or covering?

The rules on face coverings do not apply to a person with dementia if they have a ‘reasonable excuse’ not to wear one. A reasonable excuse could be:

  • They cannot physically put on or wear a face covering.
  • Wearing the face covering would cause them severe distress.
  • Someone with them needs to read their lips to communicate.
  • They need to remove the face covering temporarily to eat, drink or take medication. 

If someone such as a ticket inspector or shop assistant challenges the person for not covering their face, explain that they have dementia and can’t.

Showing one of our helpcards, or a Hidden Disabilities sunflower lanyard (available at participating supermarkets), Please give me space lanyard or exemption card is also a good idea. Or, if you live in London or the south east, you can order an exemption badge from Transport for London.

You can also print your own exemption card at home or download one to your smartphone from the government’s guidance page.

Need help explaining why a face mask can't be worn?

Carrying our helpcards may help you when out in the community. You can also wear a sunflower lanyard and face covering exempt card, both available from Hidden Disabilities. 

Order our helpcards Face covering exempt card

What if a person with dementia won’t wear a face covering?

It’s safer for everyone if we all follow the guidance on face coverings. If the person finds wearing a face covering difficult, try to understand why. 

Be patient and offer encouragement – if you show frustration or irritation, the person will pick up on this.

  • Do they simply forget why it’s needed? Consider a sign up by the door for when you go out. You may need to gently remind the person we’re still in a pandemic.
  • Does the mask fit comfortably? Try different styles or looser fastenings if it's too tight
  • Are they unhappy with the feel of the fabric? Try some different materials, maybe one made from a familiar garment (check with them first before cutting the fabric).
  • Do they pull the cover down? Try some distraction or positive reinforcement – how wearing a face covering helps to stop the spread of coronavirus and keep people well.
  • Are they anxious it will stop them breathing? Offer reassurance and show them that it won’t.
  • Is there a past experience that might make them fearful about wearing a mask (perhaps as a young child in the war)? Talk to them about it and try to find ways to reassure them.

If these still don’t work, and wearing the mask would cause the person distress, then you are within the law to give this as a reasonable excuse for the person not to cover their face.

How can I communicate if I have my face covered?

Whether the person themselves is wearing a face cover or not, you may still be wearing yours at times. This may be unsettling for the person because they cannot read your facial expressions. Or perhaps they can’t hear your voice as clearly.

Try these tips to help you communicate when your face is covered:

  • Follow our general rules for good communication – use short, simple phrases and hand gestures.
  • Be mindful that a face covering makes things different – you may need to adapt how you communicate.
  • Think carefully about your tone – be clear, calm and friendly. Speak a bit louder from behind the cover.
  • Smile – your eyes communicate genuine warmth even if you smile is hidden.
  • Think about non-verbal clues – your body language (calm, open, friendly) should match your words. Gently mirror the person’s gestures if that helps connect you.

Above all, be empathic. Try to understand how the person is feeling – ask them if possible – and support them as patiently as you can.

More coronavirus advice and support

If you need help living with or supporting somebody with dementia during the pandemic, we're here for you. See our latest coronavirus advice and read how we can support you.

Coronavirus advice How we can help


Add a comment

I am more concerned about my mom getting Covid than being required to wear a mask. My mom has this constant chewing motion which causes her mask to ride down below her nose. I have to Constantly watch and readjust whenever be I have to take her to doctor. It is frustrating but I prefer my frustration at keeping her safe over my pain and frustration of possibly having ng to deal with the symptoms of the virus. I pray we all find our comfort x nes while doing eveythiñg we can to keep ourselves, families and others safe. Thanks Alzheimer's Society for the work you do.

I am disappointed that the Alzheimer’s Society produces a list of how to persuade a person with dementia to wear a mask rather than showing some understanding of the huge anxiety and distress that wearing a mask can cause someone with dementia. It is not just the forgetfulness of not wearing a mask, nor the difficulty of trying to establish a new learnt routine. My mum gets extremely anxious and exhibits breathing difficulties when asked to wear a mask and cannot understand why she has to do so. It is bad enough being isolated for months on end with all social contact suddenly being withdrawn from her life without asking her to add another layer of anxiety. I feel the Society should have put the final paragraph at the top in bold, before explaining how to persuade someone with dementia to wear a mask. I am extremely disappointed with the Society in this respect, dementia was even mentioned as a reasonable exemption on their website so why not emphasise this and give some help to sufferers and carers?

Hi Nick,

Thanks for your comment, it's really helpful for us to hear this feedback.

You’re right to say that, above all, it’s important to be empathetic and show understanding for a person’s individual circumstances. Everyone with dementia is different, and some will be able to wear a face covering and some won’t.

We’ve tried to write this blog for a wide range of different circumstances. People living with dementia will be safer if they are wearing a face covering when out in public, so we want to provide advice and support to help people to do that if they are able to.

We understand that this will not be possible for everyone, including people like your mum. So we also want to make the rules about exemption clear, and support people who are not able to wear a face covering to feel confident in public spaces.

We hope this helps clarify our position, and apologies if the blog hasn’t struck the right balance for you.

Kind regards,

Alzheimer’s Society blog team

My husband has frontotemporal dementai and
lockdown meant losing all our/his external social activities.
He does not understand masks at all and has removed the ones I have tried with him whereas I think 6 months ago he could have. understood, I think. This means I cannot take him on a bus or tube or without the worry I might have to constantly explain. I want to take him to visit relatives because i think he would enjoy that (memories come into it); but this means we have to take public transport. Feels like a no win until there is a vaccine.

My husband has frontotemporal dementai and
lockdown meant losing all our/his external social activities.
He does not understand masks at all and has removed the ones I have tried with him whereas I think 6 months ago he could have. understood, I think. This means I cannot take him on a bus or tube or without the worry I might have to constantly explain. I want to take him to visit relatives because i think he would enjoy that (memories come into it); but this means we have to take public transport. Feels like a no win until there is a vaccine.

Hi Jane,

Thanks for your comment, and really sorry to hear about these difficulties with public transport.

Although wearing a face covering is encouraged, if your husband is not able to wear one he does not have to. If someone such as a ticket inspector or shop assistant challenges you, you're entitled to explain that he has dementia and can’t. Showing one of our helpcards might be helpful in this kind of situation: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/publications-and-factsheets/h…

The Government has also made its own exemption card, which you can print at home or download to a smartphone from the government’s guidance page: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/face-coverings-when-to-wear-…

I really hope these resources are helpful, Jane. It's important to keep up those social activities where possible, or those things that you can both safely enjoy while we're all spending more time indoors.

Remember we're here for you, so if you need any information, advice or support you can call our Dementia Connect support line. Talk to a trained dementia adviser by calling 0333 150 3456*.

*Opening hours

Monday to Wednesday 9am – 8pm
Thursday and Friday 9am – 5pm
Saturday and Sunday 10am – 4pm

Best wishes,

Alzheimer's Society blog team

As some have already stated, this must be based in individual needs / circumstances. I have cared for my Mother whom has Alzheimer’s, as she has shielded since March. Today, I took her to the local supermarket- a place she loved and looked forward to browse around. I wore a mask, but it would be far to distressing for her to wear one. Again, as people have already stated in here, the information regarding masks suggests that are worn more to protect others. I was able to keep Mum at a safe distance from others, and I only observed 1 other person, elderly whom was not wearing a mask.

I think the evidence suggests the value of wearing a mask is to protect others more than protect ones self There is of course the issue of not standing out when out and about and when most if not all are wearing one. So for me (and as with pretty much everything about someone living with dementia) it must be a very individual thing. The variables are infinite personal circumstances must apply. I own 2 care homes where we look after many people living with the condition. All have been offered a cloth mask to wear ( we are still virus free ) all our staff have been fully masked up for many weeks now and having our residents able to ‘join in’ feels important otherwise we are creating a very divided alien environment.

Don’t forget that the government guidance says that people can remove their masks when communicating with someone with hearing loss. Many older people with dementia will also have problems with their hearing and be relying on lip shapes to understand speech. It’s vital that carers and family recognise this and act appropriately - staying 2 metres apart of course. Written by someone with hearing loss!

Someone with Alzheimer’s should not have to wear a face mask as the could find it difficult to breathe and not understand why they have it on. Anyone with Asthma or another breathing problem do not have to wears them but this has not been made clear to. Many people who suffer from these problems.

In the mobility shop staff insisted Dad wear a mask. He said he was hot and stifled and could not concentrate on finding his payment card or remember his pin. He could not lip-read what staff were saying. Shop staff said, "that's why I take my mask off in the shop". I was unable to lip-read what either of them were saying. As we were leaving Dad un-hooked his mask and that tangled in his hearing aid and flipped it across the car park and I had to go over and pick it up as Dad can't bend down safely. I was wearing a sunflower lanyard and was allowed to not wear a mask. Dad prefers to wear a mask and for us to struggle than wear a label round his neck highlighting his disability. It is really stressful, but also like a Month Python sketch too. When you go in a shop without a mask staff should not be offended when you reply to their mask challenge, "Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition" which is a line from an old Python sketch.

I was sent an email, with an attachment for people with breathing or other problems, to exempt them from wearing a face mask. Apparently it stated no one was checked out as to why they weren't wearing a mask, just as long as they carried a small statement saying " exempt from wearing a face mask, please keep your distance". I was sent the link, for a copy of the badge from a professional body. So please don't panic if you genuinely feel you can't wear a face covering. Just print yourself off an exemption notification. Or get someone to do it for you.

These are challenging times that none of us have experienced before. But if my mum was still alive I'd prefer her to be safe outside our home and wear a mask or some form protection against covid19. I know she wouldnt understand why she had to wear it, as anyone else who is looking after a parent, relative or other family member they wont do something they dont want to or feel uncomfortable in doing. I'd try making it some kind of game that if she left it on I would give her a reward. Yeah I know its bribery but at least she would be as safe as I could make her. Even if I had to make the masks myself with material that she would pick out maybe then she would co operate to wear it.
We have to do everything we can to protect our family members that are already coping with a life threatening illness, but now we need to protect them even more.

I’m sorry but that is the most disgusting comment I have ever read in my life.

My Mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at the age of 49 she passed away 6 years later.

I would have never ever allowed my Mother to wear a mask and to put her through such abuse. It’s the exact same as trying to put a mask on a 4 year old.

How dare you make such a comment or advice to so many people who are suffering because of a disease that has a low mortality rate and is not even classed as a High Consequence Infectious Disease, check government guidance here https://www.gov.uk/guidance/high-consequence-infectious-diseases-hcid

Putting your loved one through such abuse when they are suffering with one of the most life changing illness I would say that all people with dementia are exempt.

We should not have them to have to adapt to our new draconian rules that don’t protect them.

Save our vulnerable do not take this advice!

I was told by both my Respiratory Nurse and Doctor, that I have to wear a mask at all times, for my own protection. I struggle to wear a mask as I also have Emphysema and Bronchiectasis, but I guess it’s keeping me alive.

I'm a Wellbeing Activity Co-ordinator in a hospital supporting people to live well with dementia across 3 busy wards. The only company they have had since the beginning have been NHS staff in PPE. While my team of 3 people havevto adhere to PPE we have A5 photos of ourselves wearing normal clothes and smiling pinned to our chests. It helps to reassure and calm our patients and a comment like "this is me under the mask... I'm happy to see you" is a great way of breaking the chain's of fear and uncertainty 😀

Hi, I hope this link to the latest Government advice on the wearing of face-coverings/masks helps to alleviate the concerns of those who are unclear whether or not it is ok not to wear one. Many people will be exempt from wearing one (myself included) & will not need to prove their medical reasons for not wearing one. Thanks.

I am just resigned to leaving Mum at home and coming up with excuses as to why she can’t come with me. I’ve had a lot of practice over the last few months. Her chiropodist and dentist have both said she will not be permitted entry without a mask. I am trimming her hair myself. Exhausted and totally fed up.

My partner is Asthmatic as well as Dementia so she finds it very stressful wearing a mask so now she wears a Exempt card and so far it's never been questioned either in the shops or on public transport.

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